Tracey Slaughter’s brilliant novella if there is no shelter was one of two runners-up in the 2020 Novella-in-Flash Award judged by Michael Loveday. You can read Michael’s comments on the novella in his judge’s report and more about Tracey on our winners’ page.
We are asking the same questions of all our winners and commended authors and it is fascinating to read that Tracey’s novella was inspired by a list of emergency instructions at work and particularly the one phrase ‘if there is no shelter’ that ended up being the title of the novella. For those writing novellas, Tracey has the great advice to ‘Banish doubt and trust the voices and don’t give up on those beautiful damaged characters’. We are so looking forward to seeing her novella in print. It will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction later this year.
- Can you give us a brief synopsis of your novella in flash?
if there is no shelter follows a young woman trying to pick up the pieces of home in the aftermath of an earthquake. As we trace the faltering steps she takes to try to restore her life, we discover the wreckage she was already leaving in her wake before the earthquake struck…a lover, a husband, the letter left stranded in a red-zoned building she cannot re-enter.
- What inspired it?
A poster pinned over the sink in the tea-room at work, where I found myself blinking, burnt-out between classes, clutching my cup with a thousand-yard stare – a stained & peeling list of emergency instructions that included the heading ‘If there is no shelter.’ That was it: somehow the heroine spoke, & started bringing her fragments to the surface…
- I am sure readers who are interested in writing in this form would love to know more about your writing process. Did it take some time for you to arrive at the final order for example?
Although the first pieces of this story arrived in intense, almost instantaneous flashes, conditions of life (which overturned not long after I embarked on writing) left the further construction of the work suspended, sometimes for months at a stretch. The forgiving form of flash (hallelujah!) could cope with the ongoing disruption, & allowed me to focus on each piece I could achieve within my narrow windows. In many ways, it even seemed to echo the chaos surrounding the heroine – I had to scratch for time, pick through scattered pieces, splice a story together from precious remains. In the end, it wasn’t so much order that I knew it needed to witness, as disorder, the truth of fracture – I had to trust that the story should be left to reflect shattering.
- All this may have changed in the present circumstances, but do you have a special place/time to write where you live? Music on or off? Pets as distractions or muses?
Silence, distance, solace, isolation, refuge from the million other pressing demands of life: I can’t seem to write unless I’m alone with my characters, tuned to their voices, breathing in their fates. I remain in awe of anyone who can tap the keys at a café table – I’ve always been secretly convinced they’re faking it!!! But yes, the present conditions are a taste too much loneliness…& with working online the static has just come home!
- And following on from the last question, if you like. If you had a soundtrack for your novella, what sort of music would be playing?
The haunting dissonant industrial poetry of the artist I.E.Crazy – as soon as I heard her twisted original ballads I felt like my book was singing back at me!
Pitfalls and pleasures of writing in this form?
Pleasures: that flash can take you in a rush, plunge you into a character’s senses, keep you fed on bursts of electricity, even when life holds scant time for sustained writing. I thrive on the little fixes it gives, the short stints it lets creativity off the leash, so there’s always a quick source of exhilaration in a schedule that sometimes doesn’t leave much breathing space. And pitfalls: I don’t know if there are any. I find that flash is the central atom of the short story mode, so it’s never wasted, whether the piece stays distilled in a single flash or keeps detonating in a series of ongoing explosions.
- Your best tips for those wanting to embark on a novella in flash for our next Award?
Banish doubt & trust the voices & don’t give up on those beautiful damaged characters & what they need to speak, not for an instant – I nearly caved-in & let go of this story, because it was largely composed during crisis, nearly listened to the offscreen murmurs of fears that were waiting to form a cold chorus. Shut that damned descant out the writing room & do it anyway. You can always fend them off for the space of the next flash.